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How Rangers are approaching critical Jacob Trouba decision after playoff struggles



How Rangers are approaching critical Jacob Trouba decision after playoff struggles

Regarding the Rangers, five days away from the first round of the draft, eight days away from the opening of the free agent market:

1. The buyout period opens Wednesday and lasts through June 30 but after touching base with several league-wide informants, there is no indication that the Blueshirts are contemplating a buyout of Jacob Trouba.

Now, GM Chris Drury keeps everything close, but sources are divided on whether the team will seek to move the captain after he submits his 15 team no-trade list on July 1.

Jacob Trouba played through injury during the playoffs. Getty Images

Trouba was obviously compromised during the playoffs when he either did or did not play on a broken ankle. It’s semantics at this point. It might be fair to second-guess the decision to bring Trouba off IR for the final nine games of the regular season after having missed 11 with the injury he sustained on March 4, but that would be on Drury and not the player.

It also might be fair to second-guess the decision to play Trouba over Zac Jones as No. 8’s issues compounded during the playoffs, but that would be on head coach Peter Laviolette, not the defenseman who obviously did not have the authority to write his own name on the lineup card.

I don’t think the Rangers have the stomach turning over the captaincy again after only two years. Plus, there’s no need for it. Leadership is not an issue. Trouba has been an important part of establishing a pretty good culture here. His teammates universally respect him.

Ryan Lindgren, an impending restricted free agent, is physical. Braden Schneider, an impending restricted free agent, is physical. Neither, though, is menacing. You know who is menacing? Trouba is menacing. He’s the danger.

Adam Fox and Schneider will go into camp as the top two on the right side. No one loves having a third-pair defenseman with a cap charge of $8 million, which of course is attached to Trouba. But the Rangers do not have a viable replacement in the pipeline. That would mean acquiring a replacement either via trade or free agency if the club attempts to trade Trouba.

Trouba, though, is not quite the prototypical third-pair D in that he is on the first penalty-killing unit. Indeed, Trouba had the sixth-best goals-against per 60:00 on the penalty kill for defensemen with 175:00 minutes, 5.47, while his partner, Lindgren, was fourth at 5.2 GA/60.

Jacob Trouba has served as the Rangers’ captain the last two seasons. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

We’re told that Chris Tanev, the veteran right defenseman who went to Dallas from Calgary at the deadline, is extremely well-regarded by the Rangers’ personnel people, but the Stars are expected to make a strong bid to retain the rental as an impending free agent.

Tanev, who will be 35 in December, is coming off a deal in which he earned an annual average value of $4.5 million. So what would it take now, $6M maybe, and for what term? Is that really the solution if the club indeed moves Trouba? Do the Rangers get any tougher or more menacing on the blue line?

The idea is to get harder. The idea is to get more menacing. I’m not quite seeing how moving Trouba accomplishes those objectives.

2. There are, however, multiple indications that Kaapo Kakko’s one-year, $2.4 million deal signed a couple of weeks ago was in fact a trade proxy, with the Blueshirts aggressively shopping the 23-year-old Finn.

Kaapo Kakko signed a one-year, $2.4 million deal with the Rangers. NHLI via Getty Images

This is sort of a sell-low scenario but sources report that Drury is also attempting to use Kakko in conjunction with the club’s own 30th-overall selection to move up in the first round.

The biggest mistake the Rangers made with Kakko was failing to add an NHL veteran from Finland to help ease the 2019’s second-overall selection’s entry into the league. Not one (until Niko Mikkola at the 2023 deadline).

I never understood it.

3. I recognize that it is essentially impossible to quantify the meaning of having a franchise goaltender. I recognize that there have been big-time teams recently who seem to always have the second-best goaltender in a playoff series, such as Toronto and Carolina. I recognize that not having a reliable goaltender can undermine a franchise for years.

But I think as Drury enters into negotiations with Igor Shesterkin on an extension, this has to be part of the calculus from management’s perspective:

If Shesterkin comes in at $11M per year, which would break Carey Price’s $10.5M AAV record for goaltenders, the Rangers will be committed to just under $45.767M on the cap for five players — Shesterkin, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Vincent Trocheck.

That does not factor in the approximate combined $15M that would be going to Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller on their next contracts. So that would be about $60.767M for seven players, leaving about $31.2M on a projected $92M cap to fill 15 spots on the roster that is going to be in Stanley Cup mode.

The question for Drury is whether the Rangers could obtain a Cup-worthy goaltender for $5M or less and use the leftover $6.5M to bolster the roster with another couple of players.

Maybe for the first time in the hard-cap era, the Blueshirts wouldn’t be so goaltender-centric. It’s just a thought.

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